Published on October 24, 2018

Is Sugar Toxic?

Does eating too much sugar cause diabetes? For years, scientists have said, “Not exactly.”

Eating too much of any food, including sugar, can cause you to gain weight; it’s the resulting obesity that predisposes people to diabetes, according to the prevailing theory.

But now the results of a large epidemiological study suggest that sugar may also have a direct link to diabetes. Researchers examined data on sugar availability and diabetes rates from 175 countries over the past decade. They found that increased sugar in a population’s food supply was linked to higher diabetes rates, independent of obesity rates.

“It was quite a surprise,” said Sanjay Basu, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. “We’re not diminishing the importance of obesity, but these data suggest that there are additional factors that contribute to diabetes risk besides obesity and total calorie intake and that sugar appears to play a prominent role.”

The findings do not prove that sugar causes diabetes, Basu emphasized, but more sugar was correlated with more diabetes, and diabetes rates dropped over time when sugar availability dropped.

“We need sugar to live,” said Dr. Flom in an interview with the Local last week, “but an excess of sugar can become a problem. Among other things, I will make recommendations for exercise. I will recommend high-intensity interval training to get the heart rate up and use up sugar for energy as well as decreasing weight. It might just be using light weights or brisk walking, but it’s important.”

Dr. Flom, 30, is a native of Cherry Hill, NJ, and a 2010 neuroscience graduate of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, a school long-known for its strong pre-med program. After four years at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Flom served her internship and residency in internal medicine at Reading Hospital in Berks County, which is part of the Tower Health System, as is Chestnut Hill Hospital. (Tower Health brings together more than 11,000 team members and 2,000 physicians, specialists and providers at 65 locations.)

After three years in Reading, Dr. Flom relocated to the Chestnut Hill area with her husband, Robert, who is in marketing and sales for a firm in Bryn Mawr. “I wanted to stay with Tower Health,” said Dr. Flom. “I spoke with doctors here, and they were very welcoming. I’m, still building a private practice here (at Northwest Internal Medicine in Wyndmoor).

“With the rise of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, I have many patients who are pre-diabetic. They are always asking about dietary change. It’s a bread-and-butter issue (so to speak). The holidays are coming up, so people want to know how they can make better choices. Glucose runs the body, but too much can be detrimental. For example, we think of fruits as being healthy, but they are sugary. Some things are marketed as being healthy, like Pure Leaf iced tea, for example, but it has as much sugar as a bottle of soda that’s the same size. So people should get unsweetened tea instead.

“Carbohydrates are broken down to sugar also, so that is another significant issue. And fat-free foods have a lot of sugar to make up for the taste that is lost (from taking out the fat). Millions of Americans are affected by pre-diabetes, and the number continues to grow. And children’s foods are loaded with sugar, like cereals. We should be eating whole wheat and unrefined foods that are high in fiber and nutrients to counteract the sugar. I recommend a ketogenic diet, which is low in carbs and high in protein. You can lose significant weight with it and need less medication.”

For assistance finding a primary care doctor, visit: For more information about Northwest Internal Medicine, call 215-836-5100.